views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Filumena
The Drayton Theatre
7th September 2015

★★★☆☆

Publicity image for Filumena

Photography provided by Don Minzone Productions

Fellas, if after 25 years of living together you still haven't put a ring on it, you only have yourselves to blame if your special lady decides to force the matter. Fed up of waiting for a proposal which just isn't coming, an exasperated Filumena (Kathryn Worth) fakes her impending death. Although this prompts Domenico (David Houston) to call the priest and make things official, when he inevitably (and very quickly) finds out her deception, he's not exactly happy. With the help of reluctant lawyer Nocella (Andrew Armfield), he tries to get Filumena cast out in favour of his bit on the side, the beautiful Diana (Emma Gonnella). However, his new wife has one trump card: she has three secret sons, and one of them is his. Is she going to tell him which one? Is she 'eck as like!

Written and first performed nearly 70 years ago, Eduardo De Filippo's Filumena is unexpectedly relatable for a modern audience. Filumena is a strong-willed woman who calls out Domenico on his hypocrisy: he looks down on her for being a former prostitute, but as a former client (and a regular at that), is he really in a position to judge? As for her insistence that if Domenico wants to be a father to his son, he must treat all of her offspring equally, it's a lesson in how to deal with a blended family. How... very modern.

The temptation is to scrutinise the three boys ourselves, looking for a clue as to which one is Domenico's biological prodigy. Is it Riccardo (Arron Blake), the womanising tailor whose brusque manner and facial hair puts us in mind of him? What about Michele (David Wentworth), the plumber who adores singing? Umberto (Matias di Masso) is fairly awkward, but maybe that's a deliberate trick? Any of the three men could be Domenico's "real" son, just as he could be a "real" father to any of them. Without being able to identify and rely on the forced bond that shared blood creates, Domenico has no choice other than to step up. It's almost enough to make you want to ban DNA testing, sometimes not knowing can lead to the better outcome.

Rather fittingly for what is a family drama set in Italy, where food is so closely associated with family, the action all takes place in one room, centred around a dining table. Head of the household Domenico huffs and puffs, waving his hands around and threatening murder, but we never take him seriously. His fierce yet impotent bark is contrasted by servants of old, Alfredo (Tony Redden) and Rosalia (Diana Brooks), both watching the couple from the background, sometimes treating their grand rows as entertainment and at others, observing with the serenity of those who have already lived through similar. Younger maid Lucia (Rebecca Cilento) doesn't have that life experience and instead runs around after the other characters, less sure of how to react.

Although the actors are mostly British bred, the majority nonetheless pronounce their English dialogue dressing the open vowel sounds and giving their words a slight Italian accent. It's a subtle quirk which along with the rustic set dressing helps locate the play in Naples. Worth quite rightly leads the cast, her character at times cold through necessity and at others, overcome with emotion. Houston plays against her strongly as an equally but differently flawed protagonist. Some of the cast give a varied performance, but Worth and Houston are always utterly compelling to watch.

There are admittedly a few lulls, mostly at the start, but whilst there are issues with pacing, director Tino Orsini captures the warmth to De Filippo's piece beautifully. Parts of the narrative are overly simple, making it feel like a classic fable and thus signposting the conclusion too readily, however Orsini still manages to hold our interest by creating a surprisingly engaging and interesting piece of work.

Filuemna opened on 6th September and runs until 18th September 2015 at the Drayton Theatre..

Nearest tube station: Gloucester Road (Piccadilly, Circle, District)



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